Understanding appropriateness

I’m ashamed to say I’ve raged on this topic before and I’m saddened that I’ll rage on it again.  And so it goes on, and once more I blather into the void that is blogdom.

And I’m okay with that.

I’ll point out again when I started this blog it began as a place for me to throw up photos to share with my family.  It’s went through a whole lot of change since then - now instead of my Mom being my target reader, the me of the future is my own target reader.  This serves as a sort of journal to my life these days in that uncomfortable, self-absorbed kind of way.

The major point is that I am going through another significant round of transition right now.  As I go through a more significant change I certainly draw from previous experience and some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.  I’m drawing strength from that knowledge, it is through learning to apply it in new ways that we grow.

I’m five paragraphs in and I have yet to actually say, “Yet another tech conference.  Yet another uproar over comments perceived as sexist and inappropriate.  Yet another escalation of an otherwise insignificant event.“  In reality, my favourite response came from Ken Fisher at ars technica.  I liked it so much I gave it a link and recommend you go read it too.

The last time I recall addressing a similar issue was a few years back at the Golden Gate Ruby Conference.  For context, I was working in a Ruby on Rails environment at the time with an exceptionally talented Ruby on Rails coder as our lead programmer.  She brought it to my attention and it became formative to my life’s plan.

Simply stated, I have become a huge admirer of some of the people involved and they have influenced me to both become a better person but also to increase my abilities.  Sarah Mei was one of the first to draw my attention, Mike Gunderloy has become a massively inspirational figure to me from his integrity and thought.  I have remained distant fans of both - from afar and in a very non-creepy manner I hope.  Along with Lori, they inspired me to tackle the Ruby route.

No, it hasn’t went as smoothly or as quickly as I had hoped, but I have found a whole world of abilities within myself that I did not know existed.  Last week I met with a recruiter in downtown Calgary who mentioned that I sounded like a huge fan of Agile.  “Not really,” I thought out loud, “I found it very disruptive on occasion when we had a set of pair programmers that simply didn’t fit into the environment too.“  A true, good Agile programmer ought to recognize which of their Agile methodologies are working and which ought to be de-emphasized based on the feedback around them.  And it clicked in my mind.

Being a generalist means I love to learn from the environment around me and to try to understand everything I possibly can in order to bring improvements around me.  I’ve discussed this while reworking my resume last week – it’s a talent to recognize that CRM “A” needed upgrading, when CRM “B” languished from disuse we had to find a new solution that solved the problems of the first and wasn’t so cumbersome that it would actually be used.  I have to understand appropriateness.  I don’t quite know how to best explain it, but that’s why I hash out ideas here.

So when inappropriateness occurs at a Python conference, my ideas line up again.

It is completely and entirely inappropriate to fire off sexist jokes at a technical conference.  Period.  It has been too much of a problem for far too long, too many people have been uncomfortable about it, too many people have been upset by it.  At this stage ignorance is no longer an excuse (and let’s be honest, it was never a good excuse in the first place).  Go to a conference, act professionally.  If I go to a comedy club and hear a racy joke I won’t be upset, if I’m at a professional conference it’s fair to say, “Not cool.”

Saying “Not cool” is, in fact, very cool.  When people like Mike stand up to express their opinions in a public forum it becomes inspiring to people like me.  Bringing that inspiration to others makes those around us even better than before, we all need to maximize our talents.  Some times we all need our own reality checks.  If you accept it as constructive criticism and improve, all the better.

Escalation is very uncool.  I’ve learned long ago that disciple involves correcting a mistake, an error or a misbehaviour.  Escalating by means of degradation, humiliation or even by giving ultimatums (‘Shut up or else you’ll be escorted from the building!“) has little to do with disciple.  Set the standard, when people do not abide by the standard then it’s valid to point it out and offer an opportunity for them to redress themselves.  Usually things stop there and positive outcomes result.  When it doesn’t, that’s the time to firmly and politely ask the offender to leave.

Ultimately, we ought to be looking towards the positive outcome.  Even in the negative of GoGaRuCo 2009 I’d argue the positive came from my inspiration from Sarah and Mike.  Learning and applying those lessons are key.  Improving myself, increasing my knowledge and skills base, and actually becoming a better person are incredibly important outcomes.  The ultimate result must be an increased drive to help each other improve ourselves.

From a coding perspective, we want to provide opportunity for women to apply their skills.  Right now they are under-represented in technology fields.  Any barrier to recruiting or retaining a skilled woman willing to participate needs to be eliminated.  We need every person we can get.  We need every diverse viewpoint we can get.  It enriches us all, we are not in a position to be exclusionary in the slightest.  Only positive outcomes will come when we encourage everyone to work to the best of their abilities.  Programming as a career is one window into the wider issue of gender balance we need moving forward.

There’s a flip side to this, too.  When I attended university there were more men than women graduating.  That’s now reversed and the gap is increasing.  As a society we cannot afford to have an entire gender ghettoized.  We gape at the prospect of keeping a woman “..in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant” as an anachronism today.  It would be equally unacceptable for men to fall into the same role in 20 years.  We need each other to succeed.  We need to recognize professionals in every field.  It is fundamental to being a complete society.

We need to recognize that bringing and end to the lame jokes is more than just Political Correctness run amok.  The outcome needs to be about working together and letting every person bring their best to the table.  We need to understand that we need educated men and women for tomorrow’s society.  We need talented men and women to excel in skilled trades.  We need to encourage everyone to contribute.  We do not have the luxury of floating - especially with a shaky economy and an infrastructure deficit, an environmental deficit and where the gap between Haves and Have-Nots is increasing.

If treating each other respectfully is a part of the answer, I’m all for it.  I’m not so trite to believe it’s the complete solution.

Back to myself, I need to remind myself that ultimately my endpoint needs to include basic survival, but also I need to explain that I bring with me the ability to distinguish what is ultimately essential for business success.  I know appropriate infrastructure, I know appropriate staffing, I know appropriate business models (yeah, that was hard knocks).  I can improve my skills appropriately to fill business needs.  Applying lessons from around me and applying them to other situations is a skill I need to apply daily.

I’m still growing as a person.  It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you apply your best to get better.  Don’t let the cruft get in the way, learn from the lessons and drive forward.